Latest coronavirus news as of 12pm on 27 September
Neutralising antibodies in breast milk may protect infants from covid-19 infection
Breastfeeding women who have had covid-19 secrete neutralising antibodies against the virus into their breast milk for up to 10 months after infection, according to research presented at a conference. Rebecca Powell at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and her colleagues analysed breast milk samples from 75 women who had recovered from a covid-19 infection. They found that 88 per cent of the samples contained antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and in most cases they were capable of neutralising the virus.
The findings, presented at the Global Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium on 21 September, suggest that breastfeeding could help to protect babies from getting infected with covid-19. This is known to be the case for other respiratory diseases such as influenza and pertussis. While young children are at lower risk from severe covid-19 than adults, around one in 10 infants below the age of one require hospital care if they are infected. Antibodies extracted from breast milk could also be used as a therapy for adults with covid-19, Powell told The Guardian.
The study also found that the majority of women who had the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines also had coronavirus-specific antibodies in their breast milk, but lower levels of antibodies were seen in milk from women who had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This supports previous research suggesting that vaccinations for breastfeeding mothers can help to protect their babies from covid-19 infection, although this has not yet been demonstrated conclusively.
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The covid-19 pandemic has led to the biggest fall in life expectancy in western Europe since the second world war, researchers have found. The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, included data from 29 countries, 22 of which saw a drop in life expectancy that was greater than half a year in 2020. The effects were larger for men than women in most countries. Men in the US saw the biggest fall, with 2.2 years taken off their life expectancy in 2020 compared with 2019.
Australian authorities have announced plans to lift restrictions gradually in Sydney, which has been in lockdown since June. Restaurants, retail stores and gyms can begin to reopen on 11 October, but only people who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to resume shopping, eating out, and some other activities. Around 60 per cent of people aged 16 and over are currently fully vaccinated in the state of New South Wales.
Essential information about coronavirus
What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus
New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.
The Jump is a BBC radio 4 series exploring how viruses can cross from animals into humans to cause pandemics. The first episode examines the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.
Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour? is a BBC documentary, which investigates what the high covid-19 death rates in ethnic minority patients reveal about health inequality in the UK.
Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.
Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.
The New York Times is assessing the progress in development of potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.
Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.
Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at London’s Victoria Station.
Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.
COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we don’t do things differently in future.
The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.
Deaths from covid-19 lead to drop in life expectancy for boys born in UK
Life expectancy for men in the UK has fallen for the first time in four decades, due to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic. New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that a boy born between 2018 and 2020 is expected to live for 79 years, compared with 79.2 years for births between 2015 and 2017. For women, life expectancy remains unchanged at 82.9 years. The estimates are calculated based on current mortality rates, which were unusually high in 2020, especially for men.
The figures do not mean a baby born in 2018-2020 will live a shorter life, says Pamela Cobb from the ONS Centre for Ageing and Demography. “To get a better estimate of this we need to consider how mortality and therefore life expectancy will improve into the future. It will be several years before we understand the impact, if any, of coronavirus on this,” she says.
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Covid-19 vaccines have prevented 123,100 deaths in England, according to new estimates. The figures, which have been calculated by Public Health England and the University of Cambridge, cover the period up to 17 September. Previous estimates had put the number at 112,300 deaths. Around 23.9 million infections have also been prevented by the vaccine rollout, along with 230,800 hospital admissions among people aged 45 and over. More than 89 per cent of all people aged 16 and over in England have now received at least one dose of vaccine, while nearly 82 per cent are fully vaccinated.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has endorsed booster vaccines for people aged 65 and over and those with underlying health conditions, following the authorisation from the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday. The CDC’s panel of advisers declined to support booster vaccines for people in jobs with a high risk of exposure to the virus, such as healthcare workers, but CDC director Rochelle Walensky decided to include this category in the agency’s recommendation. The advice applies to people who have already had two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine at least six months ago.
Use our covid-19 dashboard to stay up to date with deaths, cases, and vaccination rates around the world.
US regulator authorises boosters for older people, but rejects broader rollout
The US medicines regulator has authorised coronavirus booster vaccines for people aged 65 and over, people at high risk of severe disease and those who are regularly exposed to the virus, such as healthcare workers. The decision means that these groups can start to receive a third dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine 6 months after their second dose. Those who have had other vaccines will have to wait for further approvals.
Pfizer had asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow extra doses for all people aged 16 and over, but the FDA panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support boosters for the wider population beyond high-risk groups. A separate advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which determines US vaccine policy, is expected to issue guidance today which may include recommendations on which groups should qualify as high risk. The US has already given extra vaccines to over 2 million people with compromised immune systems.
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The US will donate 500 million more covid-19 vaccines to other countries, president Joe Biden has announced at a virtual summit on the pandemic, bringing the country’s total donations to over 1 billion doses. Delivery of the new tranche will begin in January. At a United Nations General Assembly meeting yesterday, leaders from developing nations including the Philippines, Peru and Ghana condemned wealthier nations for failing to share vaccines equitably.
New travel rules for England that require travellers from some countries to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated have sparked outrage and bewilderment, The Guardian reports. Under the rules, travellers to England who have been fully vaccinated with Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines in the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea or a European Union country are exempt from quarantine, but people who received the same vaccines in other countries must quarantine for 10 days after arrival. Doctors and politicians from India, Brazil and Nigeria are among those who have expressed anger about the rules.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
Winter forecast: A government scientific advisory committee has said that the number of people in England admitted to hospital with the coronavirus could rise to between 2000 and 7000 a day over the next few months. Here’s why the predictions for winter are so bleak, despite high vaccination rates.
More than one in a hundred school children in England have covid-19, but absences are lower than in July because whole classes no longer isolate
About 1.2 per cent of school children in England were absent due to confirmed or suspected covid-19 on 16 September, according to new figures from the UK’s Department for Education. This compares with 1.0 per cent in July before schools closed for the summer holidays. Most schools reopened in September having removed some social distancing restrictions, including mask-wearing and keeping children within “bubbles” – small groups usually consisting of one or a few classes. Under this system the whole bubble would bel sent home to isolate if one member tested positive. Now, under-18s do not have to stay at home and isolate if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive – only if they themselves develop symptoms or have a positive test result.
The new rules mean that while there is currently a higher rate of covid-19 infections among under-18s, fewer children have to miss school because of isolation rules. The total rate of covid-19-related absences was 1.5 per cent on 16 September, compared with 14.3 per cent in July. “These national figures mask some significant issues arising at a local level, and we already know of schools that are struggling to keep classes open due to outbreaks occurring,” Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers told The Guardian.
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Australia will reopen its borders for international travel by Christmas at the latest, the country’s Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said today. Meanwhile in the state of Victoria, teachers and childcare workers have been told that they must be fully vaccinated against covid-19 before they return to work next month.
The Johnson & Johnson “single-dose” covid-19 vaccine is more effective after two doses, the firm said yesterday. A second dose of the jab given eight weeks after the first led to people being 94 per cent less likely to get a symptomatic infection compared with those who were unvaccinated, in a US trial. Just one dose was 66 per cent effective in the first month after vaccination. Giving the second dose six months after the first led to an even higher rise in antibodies.
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